Shaka Robert

Africa faces a much more state of hopelessness as the Globalist Project, despite all its hiccups and benefits, gets into a Crisis of confidence. In 1995, The World Trade Organization (WTO) was born. The Offspring of eight years of negotiations, the WTO was hailed in the establishment of press as the gem of global economic governance in the era of globalization. The nearly 20 trade agreements that underpinned the WTO were presented as a set of multilateral rules that would subject both powerful and the weak (Africa) to a common set of rules backed by an effective enforcement apparatus. In the WTO, it was claimed; powerful United States and lowly Uganda had exactly the same number of votes: one.

Now the triumphalism of those earlier years is gone. As the fifth Ministerial of the WTO was approaching, the organization was in grid-lock. To date, a new agreement on agriculture is nowhere in sight as the US and the European Union stoutly defend their multibillion dollar subsidies. At one time Brussels was at the verge of imposing sanctions on Washington for maintaining tax breaks for exporters who have been in violation of WTO rules. Washington has also threatened to file a case with the WTO against the EU’s moratorium on genetically modified foods. African Countries, some once hopeful that the WTO would in fact bring more equity to global trade, unanimously agree that most of what they have reaped from WTO membership are costs, not benefits. Instead of heralding a new round of global trade liberalization, THE Cancun ministerial collapsed with no trace of hope.

The questions most young African elites both within and without is; what happened to the Globalist Project, which Africa embraced at gunpoint from IMF/World Bank? My pointer is on a word, Empire, that may point to a new hurricane of Imperialism under unchecked Ultra-capitalism/Unilateralism where Africa almost has no control. It turns out that globalization/Multilateralism and U.S unilateralism do not mix. Globalization is the accelerated integration of capital, production, and markets globally, a process driven by the logic of corporate profitability. It is defined by the ideological hegemony of neo-liberalism, which focuses on “liberating the market” through privatization, deregulation, and trade liberalization. There were broadly, two versions of neo-liberal ideology- a “hard” Thatcher-Reagan version and a ‘soft” Blair-Soros version (globalization with “safety nets”) which in essence would give some favorable conditions to Africa but still thrust the economic benefit to the elite capitalists. Underlying both approaches was the unleashing of market forces, and the removing or eroding of constraints imposed upon transnational firms by labor, the state, and society.

The New Economics of The Republican Administration in the U.S.

The crisis of globalization, neoliberalism, and overproduction provides the context of understanding the economic policies of the Bush administration, notably the Unilateralist thrust. The Globalist corporate project expressed the common interest of the global capitalist elites in expanding the world economy and their fundamental dependence on one another. However, it did not eliminate competition among the national elite. In fact, the ruling elites in the United States and Europe had factions that were more nationalist in character as well as more tied for their survival and prosperity to the state, such as the military-Industrial complex of the United States. Indeed, since the 1980’s, there has been a sharp struggle between a section of the ruling elite stressing the common interest of a global capitalist class, and the more nationalist faction that wanted to ensure the supremacy of the U.S corporate interests.

As Robert Brenner pointed out, the Politics of Bill Clinton and his treasury secretary Robert Rubin put prime emphasis on the expansion of the world economy as the basis of the prosperity of the global capitalist class. For instance, in the mid-1990’s, they pushed a stronger dollar policy to stimulate the recovery of the Japanese and German economies, so that they could serve as markets for U.S goods and services. The earlier, more nationalist Reagan administration, on the other hand, had employed a weak dollar policy to regain competitiveness of the U.S economy at the expense of the Japanese and German economies. But in the whole globalist equation Africa does not feature anywhere as a partner but as debt-ridden continent whose survival is at the mercy of unchecked capitalists in a donor-recipient relationship. With George W. Bush administration, we are back to the weak dollar and other economic policies meant to revive the U.S economy at the expense of the other center economies. Several features of this approach are worth stressing:

• Bush’s political economy is very wary of a process of globalization that is not managed by a U.S State, to ensure that the process does not diffuse the economic power of the United States. Allowing the market solely to drive globalization could result in key U.S corporations becoming the victims of globalizations. Thus, despite the free market rhetoric, we have a group that is very protectionist when it comes to trade, investment, and the management of government contracts. It seems that the motto of the “Bushites” is protectionism of the United States and the free trade for the rest.

• The Bush administration is wary of multilateralism as a way of global economic governance since while multilateralism may promote the interest of the global capitalist class in general, it may often contradict particular U.S corporate interests. The Bush coterie’s growing ambivalence towards the WTO stems from the fact that the United States has lost a number of rulings there, rulings that may hurt U.S capital but serve the interest of global capitalism as a whole.

• For the Bush people, strategic power is the ultimate modality of power.

Economic power is a means to achieve strategic power. This is related to the fact that under Bush, the dominant faction of the ruling elite is the military-industrial establishment that won the cold war. The conflict between globalists and unilateralists (or nationalists) along this axis is the shown approach towards China. The globalist approach puts the emphasis on engagement with China, seeing its importance primarily as an investment area and market for U.S capital. The nationalists, on the other hand, see China mainly as a strategic enemy, and they would rather contain it rather than assist its growth.

If these are seen as the premises for action, then the following prominent elements of recent U.S economic policy make sense:

• Achieving control over Middle East oil. While it did not exhaust the war aims of the administration in invading Iraq, it was certainly high on the list. With competition with Europe, specifically France and Germany, becoming the prime aspect of the trans-Atlantic relationship, this was clearly aimed partly at Europe. But perhaps the more strategic goal was to pre-empt the region’s resources in order to control access to them by energy poor China, which is seen as the United State’s strategic enemy.

• Aggressive protectionism in Trade and Investment matters.

The US has piled up one protectionist act after another. One of the most brazen is its stymieing of WTO negotiations over vital matters of public health. On behalf of the powerful pharmaceutical lobby, it staunchly resists the loosening of patent rights to drugs on all but three diseases. While it seems perfectly willing to see the WTO negotiations unravel, Washington has put most of its effort into signing up Countries to bilateral or multilateral trade deals such as the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) before the EU gets them into similar deals. Indeed the term “free trade agreements” is a misnomer since these are actually preferential trade deals.

• Manipulation of the dollar’s value to force rival Industrial economies to shoulder costs, thereby regaining competitiveness for the US economy. While the Bush administration has denied that this is a beggar-thy-neighbor policy, the U.S business press has seen it for what it is: an effort to revive the U.S economy at the expense of the European Union and other center economies.

• Incorporating Strategic considerations into agreements. Sometime ago in a speech, U.S Trade Representative Robert Zoellick stated explicitly “ Countries that seek free trade agreements with the U.S must pass muster on more than trade and economic criteria in order to be eligible. At a minimum, these countries must cooperate with the U.S on its foreign policy and national security goals, as part of the 13 criteria that will guide the U.S selection of potential FTAA partners.” New Zealand, perhaps one of the governments most committed to free trade, has nevertheless not been offered a free trade deal because it has a policy that prevents nuclear ship visits, which the U.S government feels is directed at the United States.

• Aggressive manipulation of multilateral agencies to push the interests of U.S capital. While this might not be easy to achieve in the WTO owing to the weight of the European Union, it can be more readily be done at the World Bank and the IMF, where U.S dominance is more effectively institutionalized. For instance, the IMF management proposed a sovereign Debt Restructuring Mechanism (SRDM) that would enable developing Countries to restructure their debt, while giving them some protections from creditors. Already a very weak mechanism, the SRDM was vetoed by the U.S Treasury in the interest of U.S banks, though it had the support of the many European governments.

Any discussion of the likely outcome of the Bush administration’s economic policies must take into account both the state of the U.S economy and the global economy, and the broader strategic picture. A key basis of successful imperial management is an expanding national and global economy-something precluded by the extended period of deflation and stagnation ahead, which is more likely to spur inter-capitalist rivalries, read France & Germany. For, without legitimacy, Imperial management is inherently unstable.

The Roman Empire, for example, solved its problem of legitimacy through political, not military, means. It extended Roman citizenship to ruling groups and non-slave people throughout the empire. Political citizenship combined with a vision of the empire providing peace and prosperity for all, created that tangible but more essential element called Legitimacy.

Needless to say, the extension of citizenship plays no role in the U.S imperial order. In fact, U.S citizenship is jealously reserved for a very tiny minority of the world’s population, entry into whose territory is tightly controlled. Subordinate populations are not to be integrated but kept in check either by force or threat of the use of force or by a system of global or regional rules and Institutions-The World Trade Organization, The Bretton Woods System, NATO-that are increasingly blatantly manipulated to serve the interest of the Imperial center.

Though extension of universal citizenship was never a tool in the American Imperial arsenal, during its struggle with communism in the post-world war II period Washington did come up with a political formula to legitimize its global reach. The two elements of this formula were multilateralism as a system of global governance and liberal democracy.

As Frances Fitzgerald observed in the “Fire in the Lake”, the promise of extending liberal democracy was a very powerful ideal that accompanied American arms during the cold war. Today, however, Washington or Westminister-type liberal democracy is in trouble throughout the developing world, where it has been reduced to a façade for oligarchic rule, as in the phillipines, Pre-Musharraf Pakistan, Africa and throughout Latin America. In fact, liberal democracy in America has become both less democratic and less liberal. Certainly, few in the developing world see a system fuelled and corrupted by corporate money as a model.

The Bush people are not interested in creating a new Pax-Romana.What they want is a Pax-Americana where most of the subordinate populations like the Arabs are kept in check by a healthy respect for lethal American power, while the loyalty of other groups such as the Philippine’s and African governments are purchased with the promise of cash. With no moral vision to bind the global majority to the imperial center, this mode of imperial management can only inspire on thing: Resistance.

The great problem of unilateralism is overextension, or a mis-match between the goals of the U.S and resources needed to accomplish these goals. Overextension is relative, that is, its a great degree a function of resistance. An overextended power may, in fact, be in a worse condition even with a significant increase in its military power if resistance to its power increases by an even greater degree. Among key indicators of overextension are the following:

• The inflaming of Arab and muslim sentiment in the Middle East, South Asia, and South East Asia, resulting in massive ideological gains for Islamic fundamentalists-which was what Osama Bin Laden had been hoping for in the first place.

• The collapse of the Cold War Atlantic Alliance and the emergence of a new countervailing alliance, with Germany and France at the center of it.

• The forging of powerful global civil society movement against U.S unilateralism, militarism, and economic hegemony, the most recent significant expression is the global anti-war movement.

• The coming to power of anti-neo neoliberal, anti-US movements in Washington’s own backyard-Brazil, Venezuela, Equador-as the Bush is pre-occupied with the middle-east.

In conclusion, the globalist project is in crisis. Whether it can make a come back via a Democratic or Liberal Republican Presidency should not be ruled out, especially since there are influential globalist voices in the U.S business community-among them George Soros-that are voicing opposition to the unilateralist thrust of the Bush administration. This, however, is unlikely, and unilateralism will reign for some time to come.

We have, in short, entered a historical maelstrom marked by prolonged economic crisis, the spread of global resistance, the reappearance of balance of power among center states, and the reemergence of acute Inter-Imperialist contradictions. We must have a healthy respect for U.S power, but neither must we overestimate it. The signs are that the U.S is seriously overextended and what appears to be a manifestation of strength might signal a weakness strategically.

return to index